Getting to know the Charkha

I'm learning to use a new toy of mine... A new-to-me Indian book charkha.

The charkha is a spinning wheel (technically, a driven-spindle wheel - it functions differently from a regular flyer wheel) from India. The book charkha is a tiny, portable version, which folds up into a case about the size of a hardback book. Gandhi was a huge proponent of the charkha in helping Indians gain financial independence by spinning their own cloth.

Setting it up was the first challenge - luckily, Urbanspinner provides an excellent tutorial. I have to admit I tried to set it up without instructions at first, and I just couldn't figure it out. But once you do it once, it's easy to do it each time after that. It is an ingenious little device - everything you need to spin 3 bobbins, and it even converts into a skein winder!

Indian Charkha driven spindle wheel portable cotton spinning

I tried a few different fibers while I was getting to know my charkha. Traditionally they are used to spin cotton and silk. I have some cotton sliver somewhere but I wasn't able to find it, so I tested mine out with camel, silk, and some short-stapled wool (pictured).

The wool is apparently Romney lambswool - the lambs must have been awfully young, because this fleece is short! It spins up into an interesting bouncy yarn from rolags, but it feels nothing like other Romney at all.

The wool spun up OK on the charkha, but super-short stapled stuff is where it really shines. Spinning camel down clouds was a pleasure. Because one hand is turning the wheel, the only way to spin on the charkha is long draw. Spinning on the charkha felt very similar to spinning on my tahkli - like a tahkli on steroids.

The biggest disadvantage is the size of the spindles - there are three of them, but each holds only a tiny amount of yarn. After about 5g or so, it gets so overfilled that it just won't turn anymore. This charkha is a portable and easy way to spin camel or cotton (or yak, or cashmere, or qiviut?), but those spindles fill up quickly.


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